California Health Kids Survey Summary
- Federal “Safe and Drug-Free School and Communities Act” (SDFSC) contained in the “No Child Left Behind Act”
- State “Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) Program
- California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) guidebook California Department of Education (CDE)
Research has consistently demonstrated that many of the health risks and school environment factors assessed by the CHKS are fundamental barriers to learning.
The CHKS Core Module (A) assesses a broad range of key resilience and youth development protective factors: caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities for meaningful participation in both school and community settings; health-risk behaviors: alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use; violence and school safety, including harassment; and physical education and eating habits.
Youth development is the process of promoting the social, emotional, physical, moral, cognitive, and spiritual development of young people through meeting their fundamental needs for safety, love, belonging, respect, identity, power, challenge, mastery, and meaning.
Resilience refers to positive youth development in the face of environmental threat, stress, and risk. Broadly, it is not only the ability to rebound from adversity but also the ability to achieve healthy development and successful learning in any circumstance.
THE THREE PRINCIPLE PROTECTIVE FACTORS
Studies across multiple disciplines have clearly identified three principle Protective Factors that promote youth development and resilience to guide education and prevention practice. These principles are:
- caring relationships,
- high expectation messages, and
- Opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution.
These supports and opportunities should be available in all environments in a young person’s world: home, school, community, and peer groups.
Caring relationships are defined as supportive connections to others in the student’s life who model and support healthy development and well-being. Studies have identified caring relationships as the most critical factor promoting healthy and successful development even in the face of much environmental stress, challenge, and risk.
These relationships convey that someone is “there” for a youth. This is demonstrated by an adult or peer having an interest in who a young person is, and in actively listening to, and talking with, the youth.
High expectation messages are defined as the consistent communication of direct and indirect messages that the student can succeed. They are at the core of caring relationships and communicate belief in the youth’s innate resilience and ability to learn. The message is “You can make it; you have everything it takes to achieve your dreams; I’ll be there to support you.” Research has shown this to be a pivotal factor in the environments of youth who have overcome the odds.
In addition to this “challenge + support” message, a high-expectation approach conveys firm guidance—clear boundaries and the structure necessary for creating a sense of safety and predictability.
The aim is not to enforce compliance and control but to allow for the freedom and exploration necessary to develop autonomy, identity, and self-control. A high-expectation approach is individually-based and strengths-focused. This means identifying each youth’s unique strengths and gifts, nurturing them, and using them to work on needs or concerns. Having high expectations assumes that one size never fits all.
Meaningful participation is defined as the involvement of the student in relevant, engaging, and interesting activities with opportunities for responsibility and contribution.
Providing young people with opportunities for meaningful participation is a natural outcome of environments that convey high expectations.
Participation, like caring and support, meets a fundamental human need: to have some control and ownership over one’s life. Resilience research has documented that positive developmental outcomes—including reductions in health–risk behaviors and increases in academic factors—are associated with youth being given valued responsibilities, planning and decision-making opportunities, and chances to contribute and help others in their home, school, and community environments.
Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD)
The misuse of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) continues to be among the most important issues confronting the nation. In the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) Teen Survey, adolescents have consistently reported that drug use is the number one problem they face.
Similarly, a 1997 national survey of adults identified drug use by far as the most serious problem facing children, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently declared that substance abuse remains the leading health problem in the United States.
For schools, the problem is particularly relevant, as it is estimated that each year substance abuse costs schools at least $41 billion dollars in truancy, special education, disciplinary problems, disruption, teacher turnover, and property damage.2 Moreover, AOD abuse is a major barrier to academic achievement. For example:
- Adolescents who use drugs have been found to have reduced attention spans, lower investment in homework, lower grades and test scores, more negative attitudes toward school, increased absenteeism, and higher dropout rates.
- Even low levels of alcohol and drug use by peers in middle schools were linked to lower individual state test scores in Washington, compared to students whose peers had little or no substance use involvement.
- Alcohol is by far the most frequently used substance and has shown the least variation over time. Alcohol drinking is endemic in high school. Indeed, it has become statistically normative in that more students report some use than no use.
- Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, with lifetime experimentation verging on being statistically normative by the 11th grade.
- Inhalants (defined in the survey as “things you sniff, huff, or breathe to get high such as glue, paint, aerosol sprays, gasoline, poppers, gases”) are next in popularity to marijuana.
Because of their ready availability, their use may even exceed marijuana in 7th grade. Inhalant use peaks in middle school; their use tends to decline with age, or at least the pattern changes, with poppers and nitrous oxide replacing the glues and paint fumes.
- Other Drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, are much less commonly used. Yet because “hard” drug use is potentially very serious, close attention must be paid to these youth. They are likely to be seriously at risk of not only drug-related problems but also involvement in other high-risk behaviors. Any use of these drugs is dangerous and an increase in their use should prompt an expansion of prevention and intervention efforts.
Prescription Pain Killers
In 2005, for the first time, a response option for lifetime nonmedical use of prescription painkillers such as OxyCotin, Percodan, and Vicodin was added to the survey in response to growing concern over the spread of this pattern of use.
The 2005 California Student Survey revealed that this is the category of drugs most commonly used after marijuana and inhalants in grades 7 and 9 and second to marijuana in grade 11. Lifetime use was only 4% in 7th grade, but rose to 9% in 9th and 15% in 11th grades.
The addition of this response option on the CSS resulted in a marked rise in the prevalence of the use of drugs other than marijuana compared to 2003.
The Importance of Delaying Use Onset
Research has demonstrated that the earlier a child initiates AOD use (regardless of substance), the greater will be the later use and adverse consequences, as well as involvement in other risk activities.
Young people who initiate any drug use before the age of 15 appear to be at twice the risk of having drug problems during their lifetime, compared to those who wait until after the age of 19. Lifetime use initiators in the 7th grade or earlier should be of particular concern. Early use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs also predicts early school dropout. Students who use marijuana before the age of 15 have been found to be three times more likely than other students to have left school before age 16 and were two times likelier to report frequent truancy.6 Consistent with this, California data show much earlier initiation among students in Continuation High Schools, who also report much higher prevalence and levels of current AOD use.7
In one study, early marijuana users (mean age 14) were at greater risk in late adolescence (five years later) of not graduating from high school, delinquency, having multiple sexual partners, not always using condoms, perceiving drugs as not harmful, having substance use problems, and having more friends who exhibit deviant behavior.
- Among 11th graders in the 2001 CSS, 8% reported using marijuana on 10 or more days, or an average of at least two days of use per week. Daily use was reported by 5% of 11th graders, compared to 2% for alcohol.
- Nationally since 1995, daily marijuana use has been reported by about 5–6% and daily alcohol use by 3–4% of high school seniors.
It was recently estimated that nationally 60% of high school students and 30% of middle school students were attending schools where illegal drugs are used, kept, and sold. Moreover, students at these schools appeared twice as likely to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs as students whose schools were more substance free.
The CHKS Core provides data on three risk factors that have frequently been associated with variations in AOD use: perceived harm, peer use, and availability.